Thursday, January 30, 2014

Dallas Notes: What Skepticism Is Good For (Claremont Consortium, February 12, 2013)

What Skepticism Is Good For

1. To undermine illegitimate authority claims
2. Initiates and stimulates inquiry

Two kinds of skepticism:
1. Extreme
usually dogmatic
shuts down serious inquiry
2. Targeted
can be responsible
Responsible skeptic seeks to discover and know [not just disclaim]
intellectual duty. Comes out of need for truth in responsible living

What should we be skeptical about? Not the things everyone else is. Skepticism has a way of creating its own social conformity.
Especially things typically assumed to be obvious
you are your brain
Marriage should be based on romantic and sexual feelings

[Something we really need to be skeptical of is our self-interest. Do I want there to not be a God? Do I want God to be distant?]
Universities and colleges used to be concerned with ultimate issues. Pastors used to be college presidents, even of ‘secular’ colleges.
John 3.16
Familiarity first breeds non-familiarity (b/c people stop thinking about it), then it breeds contempt.

Would you like for there to be a god roughly of the sort represented by Jesus?

[Part of the deal with walking by faith and not by sight is that we don’t limit our objects of knowledge to the physical/material. The spiritual world is much larger and still knowable.]

Targeted skepticism is in many ways the only hope of humanity.

We need more skepticism, not less. But it needs to be well channeled and targeted. It needs to be under logical control and not at the behest of social impulses. It has often been socially impelled, not logically impelled.

At least every other day you might doubt your doubts and believe your beliefs.
Natural trajectory should be following belief to knowledge (like Galileo)

Look at the details and be willing to change
Empirical and logical grounds are the two main avenues of pursuit of religious knowledge (as with any other pursuits of knowledge). 
E.g., look into Jn 3.16 empirically. Did He? What’s the evidence? 
Instead, people are content with operating within the assumptions that are accepted in their field.
'All that religion requires of philosophy and science is a fair field and no quarter given.'
Authority is an important part of empirical reasoning. Most of what we know is known on the basis of authority [i.e., we have not proved it or observed it ourselves]

[Dallas is so frail in this talk. It was about 3 months before his physical death and he’s just not as capable of handling questions on the fly as he used to be. But he’s still gracious, of course, and a great witness. The prepared presentation was excellent. The answers aren’t bad, just not as good as the younger, not-sick Dallas.]

Part of the temptation of extreme skepticism is just to be thankful you’re off the hook

Morality teaches what it is to be a good person and what that would be like and something about how a person would get there.
How can I do what I should do to be a good person when I don’t want to do it and how can I not do what will make me a bad person when I want to do it?
The conflict b/t desire and good is the primary element in systems of morality.